I have a horrible habit, one that marks me for scorn and disdain from friends and strangers alike: I purposefully seek out music to make fun of, and then, whether from repetition or simple brain miswiring, the music becomes indispensable to me. Thus, CDs by the likes of Aqua, Mithotyn, Cannibal Corpse, Booty Bass Ass Pirates, Mr. Vegas, and Cheech Marin's children's record, Me Llamo Cheech, El Chofer de la Autobus, get heavier rotation on my stereo than the bands I claim to like. And no band's album rocketed so quickly from "ridiculous" to "where the hell is that record?" as Rammstein's Sehnsucht back in 1997.
Everybody get in line. . . . It's Rammstein.
For the uninitiated, Rammstein is an industrial metal band from Eastern Germany, much in the spirit of KMFDM or Front 242, with the exception that all lyrics are sung in German. The songs concern themselves with violence, sex, incest, sadomasochism, and other factors that drive the German economy. Samples, big backbeats, and guitars support the operatic demon delivery of vocalist (and ex-Olympic swimmer) Till Lindemann. Rammstein exists somewhere between a sausage festival, an S&M convention, and a scary European discotheque, all of which have similar German names, if I remember right.
A first listen to Rammstein always brings to mind Mike Meyers' Saturday Night Live skit, "Sprokets," where turtlenecked Bavarians pranced about like robots, yelling, "Now ist zee time ven ve danse." Indeed, Rammstein's German stiffness comes across as geeky, but also endearing and strangely infectious. You may not be laughing at them, but you're certainly laughing near them—at least until your finger hits that little "play" arrow for the 100th time.
Rammstein has long fought press reports that it has nationalistic and fascist leanings, rumors that ironically have brought them to the attention of many nationalistic and fascist fans. The band says that the German press has a tendency to politicize everything, making stuff up when there's nothing to be found.
Another assault against the band was mounted after sensationalist reports that the Columbine killers were big Rammstein fans. The song "Weisses Fleisch" (White Flesh) includes the line "You in the schoolyard/I'm ready to kill/and nobody here knows of my loneliness," and the connection was not lost on the media. Rammstein was swept into the scapegoat corral, along with video games, KMFDM, and the Internet.
Putting the controversies aside, this week Rammstein releases a new video, DVD, and supporting CD, Live Aus Berlin (Mercury). Recorded in Berlin (in case you couldn't get that from the title), Live collects tracks from their previous records, Sehnsucht and Herzeleid, performed at one of their notorious, pyrotechnic live shows. Opening with a crunching blast symptomatic of their considerable firework fetish, Rammstein pulls off their live act surprisingly well, retaining studio-level playing while incorporating live alterations—mostly crowd chanting and on-stage explosions. It's a little unnerving for me to hear masses of people singing in German, but that probably just means I watch too much A&E.
Visually, Live Aus Berlin finds the Rammstein boys in various stages of Road Warrior attire, from bassist Oliver Riedel's S&M gear to Lindemann's "Ziggy Stardust meets Max Headroom then dons puffy vest and eats a jar of Vaseline" look. They play like the house band in a scene of one of those movies set in "Los Angeles, 2025," where the guy has to meet the girl in the scary warehouse club downtown. On-beat incendiaries, close-ups of scatter-toothed Teutons, and the band's painful seriousness keep Live Aus Berlin an entertaining document from beginning to end.